Dealing with Exam Stress

It’s that time of year again. Finals are here. Big projects are coming due and group projects are causing migraines. But it isn’t the end of the world (even if it feels like it is). The stress can be managed. And it is very important to take care of the stress before it overwhelms you.

There are some ways to handle the stress, and this post will offer you some of the best ways to look after your mental health heading into the end of the fall term.

  1. Schedule things to look forward to
    Seeing a big block of revision in your schedule can overwhelm your brain, making the stress worse and making studying less productive. Give yourself time to do some fun things and something to look forward to. At the end of a long morning of revision, schedule lunch with a friend and just enjoy the time with them. Or at the end of a full day, go out and see a film or climb a mountain. Give yourself a positive outcome to look forward to, not just another night of more studying.

  2. Give yourself a break
    Breaks are incredibly important. Studies have shown that constantly studying and working leads to brain fatigue, ineffective work, and retaining less information. So take a break when your brain starts to feel overwhelmed. Don’t stop and read Facebook or scroll Instagram though. Get out of your chair, get outside and breathe some fresh air. Listen to some music that makes you happy. Go for a walk. Even 20 minutes of this can reboot your brain and make your next hour of studying far more productive than just powering through.

  3. Get some Exercise
    We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Take advantage of it. Get outside and go for a stroll or hike a mountain. Or maybe go for a swim, go rock climbing, go running, play hockey, or hit the gym. Just do something. Besides giving your brain a break, exercise has been shown to boost your mood and your productivity and make it easier to focus. So an hour of exercise can make you more effective at studying. Plus, healthier. And that's always a great thing.

  4. Don’t Compare
    Comparison is the end of creativity and positivity, so don’t compare your study habits and what you’ve learned to others. This is just a tool for stressing you out more. Talking to others, and studying with other people is a great way to revise. But listening to other people talk about their habits, and then comparing yours to theirs isn’t healthy. Do what is best for you to get a positive result and you will succeed. Plus, if you’re comparing yourself to others than you are wasting that time thinking about someone else rather than studying. Kind of counterproductive.

  5. Eat Something Healthy
    Eating healthy at any point can be hard, but during exams, it seems impossible. Unfortunately, sugar crashes are real things and can completely kill a productive afternoon. Eat full meals that will satisfy your body. On that note, check out our Simple Supper on Wednesdays at UCalgary and Thursdays at MRU for a healthy, homemade meal that you don’t have to cook.

  6. Find a Study Buddy
    Studying alone for hours on end can lead to feelings of isolation. Fight that by finding the right person to study with. Even having another person in the room with you who you can occasionally ask a question of has been proven to make studying easier. But find the right person. Someone you can work alongside and isn’t going to distract you from revising.

  7. Plan Out Your Revision
    Leaving studying to the last minute can lead to a massive amount of stress and lack of sleep. Be prepared in advance, know how long you will need to study and make a plan. Work in space for things to go wrong as well, because, well… life. It happens and can screw up the best-laid plans.

  8. Don’t Consume too Much Caffeine
    It’s really easy to keep drinking coffee as you study, but at a certain point, your body is not going to respond well. You can get jittery, lose focus, and become more anxious the more caffeine you consume. Keep the coffee, and black tea, consumption down to maximize the benefit of a couple of cups. This much coffee can also drastically alter your sleeping.

  9. Avoid All-Night Binges the Day Before an Exam
    This is self-explanatory for many. Going into an exam on no sleep doesn’t make your brain work better or faster. It just makes you feel groggy and foggy. Don’t get pulled down into this trap. Get some rest, which actually leads to number 10.

  10. SLEEP!
    This is one of the most important things that many students (and adults in general) do not do. Give yourself time to rest and heal and your brain the chance to make the biggest impact by giving it a good nights rest. This isn’t always possible, but do your best to get a decent amount of sleep each night and you will be feeling rested and ready for every challenge that comes the next day.

Some quick things to do to reduce stress:

  • Meditate or reflect on things that are important to you. Give time for gratitude and thanks that you are in a position to be studying for post-secondary exams.

  • A shower or a bath can help to relieve stress.

  • Cook or bake something that gives you joy. Remake a childhood favourite, your favourite dessert, or make a special dinner for you and your friends or loved ones.

  • Avoid other stressed people. You know the ones we mean. Those that are running around with cue cards falling out of their pockets, asking everyone if they know this date or that person, and trying to remember every detail at the last moment. They will do nothing positive for you.

  • Be flexible and gentle with yourself. Having a timetable for revision is important, but if you don’t stick to it don’t beat yourself up over it. Get back on track quickly and regain your focus.

  • Keep things in perspective. Yes, exams are important. But you are so much more than your exam results.